sábado, 24 de agosto de 2013
Art, you will remember, is a puppet-like, iambic, five-footed thing without — and this last characteristic has its mythological validation in Pygmalion and his statue — without offspring.
In this form, it is the subject of a conversation in Danton's Death which takes place in a room, not yet in the Conciergerie, a conversation which, we feel, could go on forever if there were no snags.
There are snags.
Art comes up again. It comes up in another work of Georg Büchner’s, in Woyzeck, among other, nameless people in a yet more ‘ashen light before the storm* — if I may use the phrase Moritz Heimann intended for Danton’s Death. Here, in very different times, art comes presented by a carnival barker and has no longer, as in that conversation, anything to do with ‘glowing’,‘roaring’, ‘radiant’ creation, but is put next to the ‘creature as God made it’ and the ‘nothing’ this creature is ‘wearing’. This time, art comes in the shape of a monkey. But it is art all right. We recognize it by its ‘coat and trousers’.
Art appears here in larger company than before, but obviously of its own sort. It is the same art: art as we already know it. Valerio is only another name for the barker.
A problem which allows a mortal, Camille, and a man whom we can only understand through his death, Danton, to join word to word to word. It is easy to talk about art.
But when there is talk of art, there is often somebody who does not really listen.
More precisely: somebody who hears, listens, looks . . . and then does not know what it was about. But who hears the speaker, ‘sees him speaking’, who perceives language as a physical shape and also — who could doubt it within Büchner’s work — breath, that is, direction and destiny.
I am talking — you have long guessed it as she comes to you year after year, not by accident quoted so frequently — I am talking of Lucile.
They are all there, Danton, Camille, and the rest. They do not lack words, even here, artful, resonant words, and they get them out. Words — in places Büchner need only quote — about going to their death together; Fabre would even like to die ‘twice’; everybody rises to the occasion. Only a few voices, ‘some’ — unnamed — ‘voices’, find they ‘have heard it before, it is boring’.
And here where it all comes to an end, in those long last moments when Camille — no, not the Camille, a fellow prisoner — when this other Camille dies a theatrical, I am tempted to say iambic death which we only two scenes later come to feel as his own, through another person’s words, not his, yet kin — here where it all comes to its end, where all around Camille pathos and sententiousness confirm the triumph of ‘puppet’ and ‘string’, here Lucile who is blind against art, Lucile for whom language is tangible and like a person, Lucile is suddenly there with her ‘Long live the king!’
It is a word against the grain, the word which cuts the ‘string’, which does not bow to the ‘bystanders and old warhorses of history’. It is an act of freedom. It is a step.
True, it sounds — and in the context of what I now, today, dare say about it, this is perhaps no accident — it sounds at first like allegiance to the ‘ancien regime’.
But it is not. Allow me, who grew up on the writings of Peter Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer, to insist: this is not homage to any monarchy, to any yesterday worth preserving.
It is homage to the majesty of the absurd which bespeaks the presence of human beings.
This, ladies and gentlemen, has no definitive name, but I believe that this is . . . poetry.
‘Oh, art!’ You see I am stuck on this word of Camille’s.
I give it — I have no other choice — I give it an acute accent.
Art— ‘oh, art!’ — beside being changeable, has the gift of ubiquity. We find it again in Lenz, but, let me stress this, as in Danton's Death, only as an episode.
‘Over dinner, Lenz recovered his spirits: they talked literature, he was in his element. . .*
*. . . The feeling that there is life in a work was more important than those other two, was the only criterion in matters of art. . .’
Ladies and gentlemen, it has, if only for a moment, calmed my conscience that I did not fail to mention all this. But it also shows, and thereby disturbs my conscience again, that I cannot get away from something which seems connected with art.
I am looking for it here, in Lenz — now you are forewarned.
As I was walking in the valley yesterday, I saw two girls sitting on a rock. One was putting up her hair, and the other helped. The golden hair hanging down, and a pale, serious face, so very young, and the black dress, and the other girl so careful and attentive. Even the finest, most intimate paintings of the old German masters can hardly give you an idea of the scene. Sometimes one would like to be a Medusa’s head to turn such a group to stone and gather the people around it.
One would like to, by the way, not: I would.
This means going beyond what is human, stepping into a realm which is turned toward the human,
but uncanny — the realm where the monkey, the automatons and with them . . . oh, art, too, seem to be at home.
This is not the historical Lenz speaking, but Büchner’s. Here we hear Büchner’s own voice: here, as in his other works, art has its uncanny side.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have placed my acute accent. I cannot hide from you any more than from myself that, if 1 took my question about art and poetry, a question among others, if I took it of my own — though perhaps not free — will to Büchner, it was in order to find his way of asking it.
This uncanny, Büchner*s voice leads me to suppose, takes us far, very far back. And it must be in the air — the air we have to breathe — that I so stubbornly insist on it today.
Now I must ask, does Büchner, the poet of the creature, not call art into question, and from this direction? A challenge perhaps muted, perhaps only half conscious, but for all that — perhaps because of that — no less essentially radical? A challenge to which all poetry must return if it wants to question further? In other words (and leaving out some of the steps): may we, like many of our contemporaries, take art for granted, for absolutely given? Should we, to put it concretely, should we think Mallarmé, for instance, through to the end?
I have jumped ahead, reached beyond my topic, though not far enough, I know. Let me return to Büchner’s Lenz, to the (episodic) conversation ‘over dinner* during which Lenz ‘recovered his spirits’.
Lenz talked for a long time, ‘now smiling, now serious*. And when the conversation is over, Büchner says of him, of the man who thinks about questions of art, but also of Lenz, the artist: ‘He had forgotten all about himself.*
I think of Lucile when I read this. I read: He, he himself.
And poetry? Poetry which, of course, must go the way of art? Here this would actually mean the road to Medusa’s head and the automaton!
I am not looking for a way out, I am only pushing the question farther in the same direction which is, I think, also the direction of the Lenz fragment.
Perhaps — I am only speculating — perhaps poetry, like art, moves with the oblivious self into the uncanny and strange to free itself. Though where? in which place? how? as what? This would mean art is the distance poetry must cover, no less and no more.
I know there are other, shorter routes. But poetry, too, can be ahead. La poesie, elle aussi, brule nos etapes.
I will now leave the man who has forgotten about himself, who thinks about art, the artist. I believe that I have met poetry in the figure of Lucile, and Lucile perceives language as shape, direction, breath. I am looking for the same thing here, in Büchner’s work. I am looking for Lenz himself, as a person, I am looking for his shape: for the sake of the place of poetry, for the sake of liberation, for the sake of the step.
‘His existence was a necessary burden for him. Thus he lived on . . .’ Here the tale breaks off.
But poetry, like Lucile, tries to see the figure in his direction. Poetry rushes ahead. We know how he lives on, on toward what.
‘Death,* we read in a work on Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz published in Leipzig, in 1909, from the pen of a Moscow professor, M. N. Rosanow, ‘death was not slow to deliver him. In the night from the 23rd to the 24th of May, 1792, Lenz was found dead in a street in Moscow. A nobleman paid for his funeral. His grave has remained unknown.*
Thus he had lived on.
He: the real Lenz, Büchner’s figure, the person whom we encountered on the first page of the story, the Lenz who ‘on the 20th of January was walking through the mountains’, he — not the artist thinking about art — he as an ‘I’.
Can we perhaps now locate the strangeness, the place where the person was able to set himself free as an — estranged — I? Can we locate this place, this step?
. . only, it sometimes bothered him that he could not walk on his head.’ This is Lenz. This is, I believe, his step, his ‘Long live the king’.
A man who walks on his head, ladies and gentlemen, a man who walks on his head sees the sky below, as an abyss.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is very common today to complain of the ‘obscurity’ of poetry. Allow me to quote, a bit abruptly — but do we not have a sudden opening here? — a phrase of Pascal’s which I read in Leo Shestov: ‘Ne nous reprochez pas le manque de darte puisque nous en faisons profession.’ This obscurity, if it is not congenital, has been bestowed on poetry by strangeness and distance (perhaps of its own making) and for the sake of an encounter.
But there may be, in one and the same direction, two kinds of strangeness next to each other.
Lenz — that is, Büchner — has gone a step farther than Lucile. His ‘Long live the king’ is no longer a word. It is a terrifying silence. It takes his — and our — breath and words away.
Perhaps after this, the poem can be itself. . . can in this now art-less, art-free manner go other ways, including the ways of art, time and again?
But do we not all write from and toward some such date? What else could we claim as our origin?
But the poem speaks. It is mindful of its dates, but it speaks. True, it speaks only on its own, its very own behalf.
But I think — and this will hardly surprise you
— that the poem has always hoped, for this very reason, to speak also on behalf of the strange — no, I can no longer use this word here — on behalf of the other, who knows, perhaps of an altogether other.
This ‘who knows’ which I have reached is all I can add here, today, to the old hopes.
Perhaps, I am led to speculate, perhaps an encounter is conceivable between this ‘altogether other’ — I am using a familiar auxiliary — and a not so very distant, a quite close ‘other’ — conceivable, perhaps, again and again.
Nobody can tell how long the pause for breath
— hope and thought — will last. ‘Speed’, which has always been ‘outside’, has gained yet more speed. The poem knows this, but heads straight for the ‘otherness’ which it considers it can reach and be free, which is perhaps vacant and at the same time turned like Lucile, let us say, turned toward it, toward the poem.
It is true, the poem, the poem today, shows — and this has only indirectly to do with the difficulties of vocabulary, the faster flow of syntax or a more awakened sense of ellipsis, none of which we should underrate — the poem clearly shows a strong tendency towards silence.
This ‘still-here* can only mean speaking. Not language as such, but responding and — not just verbally — ‘corresponding’ to something.
In other words: language actualized, set free under the sign of a radical individuation which, however, remains as aware of the limits drawn by language as of the possibilities it opens.
This ‘still-here’ of the poem can only be found in the work of poets who do not forget that they speak from an angle of reflection which is their own existence, their own physical nature.
This shows the poem yet more clearly as one person’s language become shape and, essentially, a presence in the present.
The poem is lonely. It is lonely and ett route. Its author stays with it.
Does this very fact not place the poem already here, at its inception, in the encounter, in the mystery of encounter?
For the poem, everything and everybody is a figure of this other toward which it is heading.
The attention which the poem pays to all that it encounters, its more acute sense of detail, outline, structure, colour, but also of the ‘tremors and hints’ — all this is not, I think, achieved by an eye competing (or concurring) with ever more precise instruments, but, rather, by a kind of concentration mindful of all our dates.
‘Attention’, if you allow me a quote from Malebranche via Walter Benjamin’s essay on Kafka, ‘attention is the natural prayer of the soul’.
The poem becomes — under what conditions — the poem of a person who still perceives, still turns towards phenomena, addressing and questioning them. The poem becomes conversation — often desperate conversation.
Whenever we speak with things in this way we also dwell on the question of their where-from and where-to, an ‘open’ question ‘without resolution’, a question which points towards open, empty, free spaces — we have ventured far out.
The poem also searches for this place.
The poem with its images and tropes?
I am talking about a poem which does not exist! The absolute poem — no, it certainly does not, cannot exist.
But in every real poem, even the least ambitious, there is this ineluctable question, this exorbitant claim.
Then what are images?
What has been, what can be perceived, again and again, and only here, only now. Hence the poem is the place where all tropes and metaphors want to be led ad absurdum.
And topological research?
Certainly. But in the light of what is still to be searched for: in a utopian light.
And the human being? The physical creature?
In this light.
It is time to retrace our steps.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to the end — I have come back to the beginning.
Elargissez I’art! This problem confronts us with its old and new uncanniness. I took it to Büchner, and think I found it in his work.
I even had an answer ready, I wanted to counter, to contradict, with a word against the grain, like Lucile’s.
No. On the contrary, take art with you into your innermost narrowness. And set yourself free.
Art (this includes Medusa’s head, the mechanism, the automaton), art, the uncanny strangeness which is so hard to differentiate and perhaps is only one after all — art lives on.
Twice, with Lucile’s ‘Long live the king’ and when the sky opened as an abyss under Lenz, there seemed to occur an Atemwende, a turning of breath. Perhaps also while I was trying to head for that inhabitable distance which, finally, was visible only in the figure of Lucile. And once, by dint of attention to things and beings, we came close to a free, open space and, finally, close to utopia.
Poetry, ladies and gentlemen: what an eternalization of nothing but mortality, and in vain.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me, since I have come back to the beginning, to ask once more, briefly and from a different direction, the same question.
Voices from the path through nettles:
Come to us on your hands.
Alone with your lamp,
Only your hand to read.
And a year ago, I commemorated a missed encounter in the Engadine valley by putting a little story on paper where I had a man ‘like Lenz’ walk through the mountains.
Both times, I had written from a ‘20th of January’, from my ‘20th of January’.
I had . . . encountered myself.
Is it on such paths that poems take us when we think of them? And are these paths only detours, detours from you to you? But they are, among how many others, the paths on which language becomes voice. They are encounters, paths from a voice to a listening You, natural paths, outlines for existence perhaps, for projecting ourselves into the search for ourselves ... A kind of homecoming.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am coming to the end, I am coming, along with my acute accent, to the end of. . . Leonce and Lena.
And here, with the last two words of this work, I must be careful.
I must be careful not to misread, as Karl Emil Franzos did (my rediscovered fellow countryman Karl Emil Franzos) editor of that ‘First Critical and Complete Edition of Georg Büchner’s Works and Posthumous Writings’ which was published eighty-one years ago by Sauerlander in Frankfurt am Main — I must be careful not to misread das Commode, ‘the comfort’ we now need, as ‘the coming thing’.
And yet: is Leonce and Lena not full of words which seem to smile through invisible quotation marks, which we should perhaps not call Cansejüsschen, or goose feet, but rather rabbit’s ears, that is, something that listens, not without fear, for something beyond itself, beyond words?
I am looking for all this with my imprecise, because nervous, finger on a map — a child’s map, I must admit.
None of these places can be found. They do not exist. But I know where they ought to exist, especially now, and ... I find something else.
Ladies and gentlemen, I find something which consoles me a bit for having walked this impossible road in your presence, this road of the impossible.
I find the connective which, like the poem, leads to encounters.
I find something as immaterial as language, yet earthly, terrestrial, in the shape of a circle which, via both poles, rejoins itself and on the way serenely crosses even the tropics: I find ... a meridian.
With you and Georg Büchner and the State of Hesse, I believe I have just touched it again.
[PaulCelan. "The Meridian." Collected Prose. Translated by Rosemary Waldrop (NY: (2003).]
quarta-feira, 21 de agosto de 2013
The Dude as Death of the New Left
To begin, I should note that I’m not using the term Old Left in the pejorative sense that it acquired in England, where, in the 1960s and 1970s, it referred to the supposedly retrograde remains of traditional, party-based, labor-oriented, leftist organizations and politics, in short, precisely what the English New Left was supposed to offer an alternative to. Instead, I’m thinking of the Old Left much more broadly as Marxism, socialism, and communism in general, in their pre-New Left forms. In contrast to the Old Left, the New Left, in its U.S. context, like its English counterpart, turned away from labor, economics, and materialist issues as its overarching concerns. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) spearheaded the New Left movement in the U.S., and, consequently, the 1962 publication of the Port Huron Statement, the SDS’s manifesto—the Dude claims to have helped write an early draft—marks a seminal moment for the New Left. While the Statement itself only mentions Vietnam once, the SDS eventually helped focus the New Left’s social activism on opposing the Vietnam War, working for free speech and civil rights, and practicing civil disobedience. Unlike the Old Left, the New Left drew its supporters from college campuses more than from industrialized capitalism’s working class, which tended to constitute the rank and file of earlier leftist movements and organizations. For my purposes, the most important differences between the Old and New Left are the latter’s turn away from Marxism, especially economic analysis and materialist critique, and its attention to individualized concerns (the individual’s sense of alienation with which C.
The Dude as Faithful to the Event
What if we, as viewers, along with most of The BigLebowski’s characters, misrecognize the Dude as a loser, a bum, a ringer for authentic politics?
What if the Dude does more than embody a parody of the New Left’s ruins and, rather, remains faithful to the New Left and, in particular, to the “event” of the publication of the Port Huron Statement in Alain Ba- diou’s sense of an “event” as an occurrence that punches a hole through its historical moment’s established knowledges and reorganizes its “situation” (42-43). The Dude’s fidelity to that event, to what Badiou would name the “truth-process” whose possibility emerged with the event (41-42), manifests itself throughout the film as the Dude’s refusal to give up on the ideas of the SDS and the Port Huron Statement. The film’s most glaring sign that everyone around the Dude misrecognizes his fidelity to an event begins with the first scene after the credits, in which two of Jackie Treehorn’s thugs mistake him for the millionaire Jeffrey Lebowski until, realizing their error, they dismiss him as a “fucking loser.” In fact, though, the misnomers precede this scene, beginning instead with the Stranger’s opening narration, in which he comments authoritatively that the Dude is “a lazy man . . . the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in all of Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide.” But when is the Dude lazy? Apart from the bird’s-eye shots of him lying on the purloined Lebowski rug listening to, appropriately enough, cassette tapes (a soon to be completely superseded medium, not unlike the SDS and perhaps the Dude himself), we never see the Dude exercising (if this is the correct word) his supposed laziness. The Big Lebowski cult members). What if he abides precisely in Badiou’s sense that he continues? Badiou’s slogan, his maxim for those who remain faithful to an event, is “Keep going!” (79).
Another point that undermines the Dude’s supposed indolence lies in the film’s structural pairing off of his idleness against the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers and, more exactly, against The Big Lebowski as the ultimate Urban Achiever. Maude’s eventual revelation that her father is no Achiever, big or little, folds back on the Dude’s supposed laziness and tempers it. The Big Lebowski married into his fortune, was briefly allowed to run one of the companies that his wife owned but “wasn’t very good at it,” according to Maude, and was finally positioned by her as the titular director of a charitable foundation. In short, Lebowski is a ringer; he brought no capital to his marriage and only plays at being a tycoon. What if the Dude similarly plays at being lazy? More to the point, what does laziness mean within the context of the Port Huron Statement? Wouldn’t the realization of its aims render laziness anachronistic? In short, hasn’t the Dude found a way to fulfill his means of subsistence without laboring at alienating jobs, preferring instead to enjoy his “authentic” path to meaning, which he tells Maude includes driving around in his car, bowling, and “the occasional acid flashback”? Taking the Statement seriously, or living as if its aims have already been realized, means more leisure and no guilt. Units of time no longer serve as measures of their possible valorization through labor. So the Stranger, an impossible and over-the-top homage to sarsaparilla-sipping singing cowpokes, functions not as an unreliable narrator who begrudges the Dude his leisure and fantasizes over the end of ideology in the early 1990s, hence the end of American imperialism (“westward the wagons,” as he expresses it) but as our culture’s mythic narrator who ushers out the old capitalist myth of the Big Lebowski and ushers in the new myth of the Dude. In Los Angeles, where the Pacific perforce stopped the North American expansionism—mythologized as the Stranger—The Big Lebowski undergoes a transformation and becomes the Dude, who embodies the individualism explicitly praised in the Statement (which in one register reads as a paean to American liberal democratic individualism). And it is the Stranger who benevolently oversees this metamorphosis of 1950s into 1990s America. Yes, he labels the Dude as lazy but not pejoratively; rather, he grants the Dude his imprimatur and is glad that the Dude is “out there taking it easy for all us sinners.” Speaking from within his patently obsolete vernacular, he has yet to find a word other than “lazy” to describe a person who does not labor for others, who does not “achieve” at useless but surplus-value-producing tasks, but his approval of the Dude’s situation nonetheless shows through.
So what, if anything, is wrong with the Dude’s fealty to a middle way that is neither capitalist liberal democratic nor ardently leftist? My concern lies with the Dude as a cipher of vulgar communism. Finally, it is not we who misrecognize the Dude as lazy but the Dude who mis- recognizes the Port Huron Statement as an event rather than a compromise. He takes its praise of individualism seriously and thereby upholds the New Left’s concerns but sacrifices the Old Left’s attention to communitarian concerns. In short, he should have adhered to the authentic first draft of the Statement—the Communist Manifesto-rather than the lazy drafts (first and final) that became the Statement. One telling difference highlights his mistake. While the Statement concentrates on improving the quality of the labor experience, the existential and individual experience of working, the Communist Manifesto makes a different demand: “Equal liability of all to labour” (Marx and Engels 490). The brevity of this commentary on labor is not an oversight on the part of Marx and Engels, because, as historical materialists, they assume that the character of labor cannot be rehabilitated using a top-down, superstructural approach. Rather, the material underpinnings of labor, the social relations within which it occurs, will ultimately determine its quality. In sum, the Port Huron Statement fails to be materialist enough, dictating a series of superstructural changes, including the “feel” of labor (a phenomenology of labor), in place of the materialist ones of the Communist Manifesto: “Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes”; “Abolition of all right of inheritance”; “Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State” (490). The Statement wants to leap peacefully over the revolution that will reshape the mode of production and the exploitative social relations of labor under capitalism to alight upon the better future of enjoyable work and creativity. The Communist Manifesto rejects that option, recognizing that the nature of labor won’t change through an act of collective, but idealist, willing.
The Dude as Cipher of Vulgar Communism
It is with the Communist Manifesto in mind that I want to present a third possible reading of the Dude, not as a mediation of the first two but simply as another option. There is a hopeful side to this reading, albeit not as positive as the narrative of fidelity to an Event that I have just sketched. To begin to talk about the Dude and the Communist Manifesto, though, I need to revisit the issue of labor, to the fact that the Dude has no job within the capitalist economy, while Jeff Dowd, his namesake, does. If we leave behind The Big Lebowski as an ultimately unconvincing celebration of laziness—although a laziness that now figures as an avoidance of exploitative social relations—then we return to the Dude who does not work, who pays no rent, who somehow acquires food, clothing, and Kahlua, and whose healthcare is provided for by others (Maude arranges for it). What intrigues me about these characteristics of the Dude’s life is that they parallel the characteristics not only of the New Leftist gone bad (see above) but also of a mythic “citizen under communism.” In other words, maybe the film encourages us to connect it to the wrong manifesto. In 1998, the year that the film was released, the Port Huron Statement was 36 years old, but 1998 also marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, a document that I think has more to tell us about the film than the SDS’s manifesto. This earlier, more famous and infamous manifesto is the pivot around which the film turns. While Walter, The Big Lebowski , Maude, Marty, Jackie Treehorn, and all the other broadly drawn character types spread a postmodern veneer over the surface of the film, assuring us that we aren’t really seeing representations, not even parodic ones, of Vietnam vets, feminist artists, etc., the Dude is different. He goes to the end. Maybe he takes his stereotype (failed New Leftist, failed communist) to its logical conclusion and beyond, and thereby dialectically passes through it and comes out the other side.
For this third reading, we must first think of the Dude as traveling along a different trajectory than the film’s other walking stereotypes. To do so, we need merely see the Dude as the negative embodiment endpoint of all myths that Marx and Engels’ manifesto aims to dispel. The second section of the Communist Manifesto is organized as a series of theses and antitheses, where the former are myths about communism or socialism and the latter are their negations. For instance, Marx and Engels write that it is commonly claimed that under communism, “all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us” (486). The Dude instantiates this fear; he’s unemployed and, in spite of the fact that he’s kept hopping throughout the film, would probably prefer lying on his rug listening to old bowling league games to the more arduous task of sleuthing. No rent or mortgage payments compel the Dude to work for a living, so he doesn’t. In 1991, he has discovered the impossible situation, a landlord in Los Angeles who lets him live rent-free. Marty does make a half-hearted attempt to remind the Dude that the rent is late, but no one is fooled. The Dude almost completely misses the oblique reference to arrears, and when he finally grasps it, he betrays surprise that it was mentioned at all and barely troubles himself to go through the motions of agreeing to pay. Clearly, no money has passed between these men in years, unless the Dude has borrowed some. So he has shelter provided for him; he needn’t work, and he seems able to keep himself in food and clothing, judging from his waistline and lack of concern about his next meal. The only time we see him buying anything approaching food, he is writing a check for less than a dollar—that for all we know will bounce—to pay for the half and half that goes in his White Russians. Again, isn’t this a slightly veiled image of someone who needn’t work any longer for his means of subsistence and, consequently, has become fat and lazy? Didn’t the U.S. government once drop doctored pictures of Castro, corpulent and happy (the antithesis of the image of the hardworking communist) on Cuban citizens to turn them against their government? The Dude’s food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of somehow, perhaps by the state, and it is precisely their satisfaction that frees the Dude to pursue unabashed laziness. It is as if he has found an odd communist space in L.A. that’s just large enough for one.
We return to the Manifesto and read the next myth: “We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man’s own labour” (484). The Dude owns nothing. Granted, he does not work, either, but isn’t he the image of the man who will not labor because even if he were to do so, the fruit of his labor would be expropriated from him? He probably owns his bowling ball and his car, although the latter burns up in the course of the film. And unlike the famed aging American cars of Cuba, the Dude isn’t even inspired to maintain his jalopy, if not by an embargo then by necessity. Again we are faced with a Cold War propaganda image of communism gone bad, a bad faith version of utopianism designed to force us to choose capitalism as the only legitimate option.
Much more telling, though, is the film’s allegiance to—and the Dude’s embodiment of—a prevalent anxiety in U.S. culture in relation to any form of utopian thought. The film assumes that, to paraphrase Marx and Engels’s description of this concern, all desire will cease if all persons’ minimal means of subsistence can be met within a society. In other words, it is the film’s treatment of desire and its objects that highlights its apprehensions about the imagined shortcomings of a vulgar version of communism. For instance, how might we respond to the question, “What does the Dude desire?” He tells Jackie Treehorn, “All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back,” and his use of the third person nicely distances the Dude from his own wish. The rug is certainly the first obvious objet petit a, the first object that the film situates as something that seems to be a little piece of the Lacanian Real, the “Thing” that, if it could only be acquired, would fill out the gap in the Symbolic Order of representation and satisfy desire.3 Not surprisingly, then, it is precisely the loss of the rug that initially sets the Dude, and the film, in motion. For this reason, it is striking that the Dude’s interest in his lost rug inexplicably vanishes two-thirds of the way through the film. He never retrieves it (or its substitute from the Lebowski mansion, the second rug which he also loses), and the film doesn’t reference it again. In a documentary on “The Making of The Big Lebowski ," Joel Silver, the film’s producer, commented on this disappearance after his first reading of the script for The Big Lebowski . Ethan Coen remembers Silver suggesting, “The movie should have ended with [the Dude] getting his rug back or some mention of the rug, which would have been a nice resolution.” Ethan also mentions that he and Joel probably should have taken Silver’s advice but then, at a bit of a loss, admits, “but we never did do it.”
He was a man who loved the outdoors ... and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of Southern California, from La Jolla to Leo Carrillo and... up to ... Pismo. He died... he died as so many young men of his generation before his time ... [like] so many bright flowering young men at Khe San, at Lan Doc and
Hill 364____ And so, Theodore Donald Kerabatsos, in accordance
with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.
As Walter carries on, it becomes clear that Donny’s death is directly related, in Walter’s mind, to Walter’s experiences in Vietnam, and that Walter didn’t really know Donny. The references to surfing seem particularly anomalous, since no one looks less like an outdoorsman or water sports enthusiast than pasty-skinned Donny, and Walter doesn’t seem to know exactly where Donny surfed. Walter also falls back on a cliché when deciding where to sprinkle Donny’s ashes, since he doesn’t know what Donny would have wanted, while the Dude’s silence during Walter’s impromptu ceremony indicates that he might have known Donny even less than Walter did. In short, Donny’s death is played off as a joke, and the punch line comes when Donny’s cremains blow back into the Dude’s face and stick to his hair and goatee. Having voiced his disgust with Walter’s Vietnam obsession, the Dude turns away, Walter says, “Fuck it, man; let’s go bowling,” and the scene has concluded.
1. For a founding definition of the New Left, see C. Wright Mills’s “Letter to the New Left.”
2. I have Aaron Jaffe to thank for several ideas in this chapter that emerged from his comments on an earlier draft. He proposed thinking of the Port Huron Statement as a lazy Communist Manifesto, raised the question of what laziness would signify in relation to the Statement, and noted that the Dude could be read as a cipher of bad faith utopianism.
3. I understand the differences among Jacques Lacan’s ideas of the “Real,” the “symbolic,” the “imaginary,” and “reality” as Alan Sheridan describes them. For
Sheridan, “[t]his Lacanian concept of the ‘real’ is not to be confused with reality, which is perfectly knowable” (x). The Real is “that which is lacking in the symbolic order, the ineliminable residue of all articulation, the foreclosed element, which may be approached but never grasped” (x). I see the objet petit a functioning as the object of desire, the object that one takes to be a little piece of the Real and that organizes desire. Knowable social reality, on the other hand, is covered by Lacan’s notion of the symbolic order.
In: The Year's Work in Lebowski Studies. Bloomington, 2009. pp. 124-148.
segunda-feira, 19 de agosto de 2013
The wholly enlightened earth radiates under the sign of disaster triumphant - Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1932) By Bertolt Brecht
Joan (at the head of a Black Straw Hat shock troop)
In a gloomy time of bloody confusion
when disturbances are unending in our cities:
into such a world, a world like a slaughterhouse
summoned by rumored threats of violence
to stop the brute strength of the dim-sighted
from smashing its own tools and
crushing its own bread-basket underfoot
we wish to bring back
Of little fame these days
not admitted now
but, for the lowest, the one salvation!
Therefore we have decided
to beat the drum for Him
so that He may find a footing in the districts of
and His voice may resound in the stockyards,
(to the BLACK STRAW HATS)
And this enterprise of ours is surely
the last of its kind. A last attempt
to set Him upright in a crumbling world,
by means of the lowest.